1. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using an established author's universe

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Islander, May 29, 2011.

    Let's say an author writes a number of books set in the same universe and sharing a number of premises, but the books take place in different places, during different time periods, and using different characters.

    After the author's death, would it be considered bad form to write a story set in the same universe, but without using any of the names, characters or places the original author invented?
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know. I suppose if you weren't using any names, places, or characters the original author invented, I'd wonder why you are using the same universe. There could be potential issues - for example, if the universe is subject to any trademark protection, etc.
     
  3. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    For two reasons...

    1. The universe contains ideas and premises one may want to explore
    2. The story would constitute a comment on the fictional universe itself

    This is sometimes done with the original author's blessing - I'm wondering if it's ever been done without.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if the intellectual property of the dead author is now owned by his heir/s you could be in a heap of trouble, depending on what you do and how you do it...

    you need to ask a literary attorney about this, not members of a writing site...
     
  5. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suggest you don't. Unless you're commissioned to do something like that, like the authors of the Warhammer books, don't do it.

    It's low and base to use someone else's work. They built that world. It's a part of them. There are things going on in that world that nobody except the writer has access to because they didn't write about it /yet.

    Sorry if that seems harsh, but this sort of thing fires me up. It's the reason I don't post my best work on the internet.
     
  6. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you feel the same way about fan fiction (i.e, non-commercial derived works) too, cruciFICTION?

    Do you feel the same way when the author has been dead for a long time - e.g, when someone writes a new Sherlock Holmes or Frankenstein's monster story?

    (I'm asking because I'm honestly curious about what different people think)
     
  7. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why not use your own Universe with similar premises and what not? I mean what exactly is so unique about that Universe that you couldn't possibly do in your own?

    Would help me if I had some examples and such.

    So... no fanfic trading later tonight? :(
     
  8. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the author has been dead for a long time the copyright may have run out. I think copyright lasts for seventy years after the authors death - not a hundred per cent sure, so you would need to check that out, on saying that I read somewhere that Great Ormond Street Hospital for children hold the copyright for Peter Pan.
     
  9. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wrote fanfiction between the ages of eight and fourteen when I was forming myself as a writer. The few original ideas I had when I was eight to twelve were all pretty horrid. I view fanfiction as something good for when you're in your young formative years, but it is a base pursuit, most definitely not worthwhile. I mean, unless you're very young, you should be coming up with your own ideas.

    I've read one (1) piece of fanfiction that I truly respected. It was a one-shot Pokémon piece that had me with my mouth agape, very very close to tears. It was brilliant, and the incorporation of the Pokémon universe was flawless. Unfortunately, I don't remember the title or the author's handle.


    I don't understand why anyone would write a Sherlock Holmes story, though. I've never heard of someone doing that. The Frankenstein's monster thing I can somewhat understand, but again, I don't see it as a worthwhile pursuit. If we were talking films, my position would be drastically changed, as I'm a bit of a film buff as well, but even then I prefer original films.

    Really, as I said, I consider it base to use another author's work. I mean, using old fables like the pied piper or red riding hood in new ways (I don't mean that in the cliché "LOOK I ADDED A SUBPLOT" way. I mean that if someone can genuinely use it as a base and create something new, then I can respect that as a worthy pursuit, but originality is something to really be respected.

    If you're not looking for originality, then what the hell are you doing posing as an author? If it's just a newer, contemporary take on something old, you're not creating, you're amending.

    </rant>

    EDIT: I also loathe unnecessary franchising. Like Pirates of the Caribbean. The first movie was good. The rest were dumb and unnecessary. The first Toy Story and Shrek were the same (actually, the latest Shrek movie actually had me in tears. It was pretty sad and REALLY adult).
    Same with Assassin's Creed. First game: yes. Subsequent games: WHHHHHYYYYY?

    Pokémon makes sense as a franchise, but I hate the majority of the spinoffs (Ranger, Mystery Dungeon, et cetera). It's stuff like that.

    </rant> (seriously, </rant>)
     
  10. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Shelia Handcock was on TV recently (can't remember which show) where she showed newly published books by 'Enid Blyton', from the front cover you have no inkling that the book has not been written by her but in her style - there's money in it - seems to be the answer.
     
  11. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    "There's money in it" is a low excuse. I'm assuming that that's not actually your official position on it, since I'd hate to offend you.

    If I'm understanding what you meant properly, this Shelia Handcock (what an odd last name... xD) basically stole another writer's identity. I mean, that's the lowest, worst form of plagiarism I can think of.
     
  12. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    No that is not my position on it - 'there's money in it' is no excuse in this particular case imo.

    Shelia Handcock is a well known and respected actress here in the UK. She was the wife of the late John Thaw of Inspector Morse fame.

    Shelia Handcock did not write these books.

    In the programme she exposed the fact that these books are being published today using Enid Blyton's name and the name of the true author was tucked away inside the book - thus being misleading to parents, children and teachers alike. The 'take' I got from it was that Enid Blyton is still very popular with young readers today and these books are being churned out using her name solely because there is still money to be made from her name.

    As an author I do want to, and would encourage fellow authors to, be original, whenever and wherever possible.
     
  13. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    High five!
     
  14. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah I concur with the general consensus. For me, it is in fact kinda like fan fiction.

    I was just in Bath this weekend, and saw a staggering amount of pseudo-Jane Austen books that, upon closer inspection, were 'inspired by...'

    Not my cuppa tea.
     
  15. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Misleading - at best...

    at worst - down right -----, intended to dupe the buyer into parting with his/her hard earned cash.

    I reiterate 'there's money in it'.

    It shouldn't need close inspection to read 'inspired by' it should be obvious, as in;
    by 'whoever' inspired by the works of... That would be the honest open way to describe it. Then you can make your mind up, whether to buy the book or not.
     
  16. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, my dear, but honest isn't marketable.
     
  17. Ice Queen
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    Ice Queen Senior Member

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    Things like fairytails, religion etc. etc. Old old stories like Beowulf and such; to take inspiration from these things can be great; as long as you put your own spin on them; it's inevitable that writers borrow bits and pieces of each others ideas, themes and so on. One might even do it unintentionally.

    That's because no idea is really 100% original-nothings-ever-ever-been-done-like-this-before in our day and age.

    However, to actually use an Author's universe that they've so painstakingly created and written detailed history, culture, characters etc for, I'd agree I don't like the sound of it. As cruciFICTION said, that universe is part of the author; using it without their consent, I'd have to say is basically stealing it, then you might abuse it horribly beyond recognition because you don't know everything about it like the original author did. Sounds harsh maybe, but so what? That's how I'm sure many people would feel if someone butchered their made-up worlds.

    I'm sure you'd find it much more satifying, fascinating and rewarding writing your own world. It may be a little similar; but you'll find that making your own world feels great, a sense of accomplishment you won't find elsewhere :3
     
  18. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    It occurs to me that this is exactly the same situation that trekkie writers find themselves in. Gene is dead, trek lives on without him,and there are a lot of novels set in the trek universe that are quite good.

    It may be fan fiction, thats not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but the real questions are: Can you get permission to use that novel / universe? If not don't even bother writing the first word.

    Do you need permission? Now here it gets a little more tricky, you may be legally in the clear because the work is old or whatever, but morally and emotionally as far as readers go, you may still be treading on someone's toes.

    Are you going to alter the universe? If you do you may well p*** off some fans of the original work, and you may not be able to anyway. I'm fairly sure that anyone who gets permission to write a commercial Trek novel is bound by some basic laws.

    Can you do your book another way? This is maybe the most important of them all. Because if you can write your book without needing to place it in someone else's universe, the question becomes why are you? And if its just to get your books out there and sold, that's a very poor reason.

    Just some thoughts.
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The Star Trek novels that are published are licensed by the rights holders.
     
  20. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok, example 1: An author wishes to deconstruct the world-view described in C.S. Lewis Narnia series (creationism, black-and-white morals, etc). By setting her novel in the same universe, the author says "this could happen in the Narnia universe" or "this is what the Narnia universe would really be like". If she set it in her own universe, it would be less of a statement on C.S. Lewis' works and more of an independent work.

    Example 2: Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is so well-known in science fiction circles, that any novel which discusses the prediction of future as a science, or the manipulation of history, will be compared against it. An author who wishes to expand on the theme using their own setting, will have to reinvent the wheel and repeat what Asimov has said in their own words, while someone who uses the Foundation setting can go directly to making their own points. (Both Isaac Asimov and his estate have given several authors their blessing to write books set in his universe.)

    I agree it's low to try to pass off other's ideas as your own, or, even worse, trying to pass off your own work as someone else's to increase sales.

    I think the Enid Blyton thing is more about a greedy estate trying to cram as much as possible from Enid Blyton's trademark, than about greedy writers. I doubt the ghost-writers get paid that much for writing the books which the estate slaps Enid Blyton's name on before publishing.
     
  21. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    This bothers me. First, only Lewis has the right to say, "this is what the Narnia universe [is like]" or any variation thereof.

    Second, if you want to make a comment or statement on someone else's fictional universe, write non-fiction where the legal ramifications are simpler to avoid.

    I don't see any reason why your comment on someone else's fictional universe is required. That may sound very harsh, and I'm sorry for that, but I really don't understand what point you could possibly have to put across, let alone what point you could put across within fiction.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I tend to agree. Or, rather, while there may be points you could put across, there are better venues for doing so (non-fiction, as you suggest).

    Let's be honest - the real reason an author would set a story in Narnia is to try to generate additional sales due to the popularity of Narnia. Any kind of commentary you want to make could be done in original fiction or non-fiction. It's just a way to piggy-back on the creative property of another writer to make a few bucks.
     
  23. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Which is disgusting and we'll assume (rightly) that the OP doesn't want to do such a thing as that.
     
  24. Sundae
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    Isn't this done with Jane Austin's novels quite a bit, especially Pride and Prejudice?

    I have seen several books that continue the Pride & Prejudice storyline, or take the characters and do something different with them... or just take the world. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies comes to mind, though I have never read it.

    I think once the trademark/copyright has run out, it's fair game and I think if it's something you want to pursue, you should. Though, I haven't seen anything from an already done universe that has been truly successful with it; except for maybe Gone With the Wind which is considered to be taken from Vanity Fair - it is the same universe but fabricated to appear new.

    Gone with the Wind is far more popular and loved than Vanity Fair.

    I hate when people jump on people for wanting to explore someone else's world. There is sometimes genuine passion there and to me it's a disservice if you don't pursue it for yourself. If you want to market it and sell it however, you run the risk of coming off as author is mediocre and or a fraud. But damn, if you do it good, you can change the literary world too.

    All ideas are taken from someone. I mean we see this in technology. The first GUI was created by Xerox. They didn't take a step further, and Steve Jobs who visited and became so influenced by it took and made the first homemade computer using a GUI.

    Sometimes, I feel like fiction is stuck in high restrictive band that disbands progress. I understand copyright and trademarks and agree with laws and keeping to author's integrity and all... but once they've died and copyright and trademarks have run out... I think it's fair game as long as you are respectful. But there are a lot of people that AREN'T respectful and there in lies the problem, original works and authors can be abused way too easily. I see both sides.

    What is that great quote from HP?

    "Progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged. Let us preserve what must be preserved, perfect what can be perfected and prune practices that ought to be prohibited." - Dolores Umbridge - Harry Potter
     
  25. Sundae
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    While I agree that only the original author has a right to say how their created would actually is and no one else...

    I disagree that that another person can't say that "this is how it should've been." You see this done a lot of parodies, travesties, comedies etc. It can have a valid point, however I have never ever seen it done in fiction. Usually in non-fiction works or in mockery.
     

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